Monday, July 19, 2010

Book Review Catch-up (part 1)

It's been a while since I posted an update here, so I'm going to do a big post with short reviews of the books I've read since then a la Garish and Tweed (I love that blog!) So, here goes nothing:

In a parallel 19th century a tsunami destroys the entire island tribe of boy on the cusp of manhood and wrecks an English ship on the same island, leaving a young, aristocratic girl as its sole survivor.  The two meet and try to understand each other in a world that has been turned completely upside down for both of them.  Themes of colonization vs preservation of native cultures, science vs magic, man vs religion, tradition vs adaptation, and more are explored.  Overall I really enjoyed the pacing of the book and the way it tackles a lot of complex issues in a way that doesn't seem forced. There isn't much mature content, but  some of the ideas explored are a bit complex so I'd recommend it to older or more advanced YA readers.  Thanks to the parallel story lines of the boy and girl I think it would be enjoyed by both genders, especially because there is thankfully little time wasted in the novel on romantic plot lines--they have more important matters to attend to after all.
Nation by Terry Pratchett

 These books are very popular with the kids at my school right now, so I decided to give them a try.  The basic premise of the series is that the Greek Gods are still alive and, as Greek Goods are wont to do, messing about with humans.  This leads to half-human/half-god children who end up being trained to deal with their unique situation at a summer camp.  Seeing the classic Greek gods in modern times and having their children go on quests across America is a lot of fun and I like the fact that most of the children are labelled as having dyslexia and ADD due to their unique nature, giving real kids labeled as such some heroes to look up to.  However, the narrative voice really got on my nerves.  I consider sassing to be my job and I do not appreciate the tween narrator breaking the fourth wall just to make snarky comments to me.  I can handle that myself, thank you.  As a result despite the fun twist on classic myths I just couldn't get that into it and stopped reading after the third book.  I can see why the kids like them so much though, and it's better than a lot of series they could be reading *ahemtwilightahem*.  I've seen both boys and girls really into these books and they're on the cusp of juvenile and young adult fiction, so they can be enjoyed by a pretty wide age range. 
 The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series: The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan

I am not ashamed to admit that I love this series and I love my job because if not for it I'd probably have never read a series aimed at such a young audience.  These books are really just a step up from easy chapter books.  They have a fair amount of illustrations in them and whenever a more advanced word is used the younger of the sisters asks what it means, so it's great for kids just graduating to regular chapter books.  The basic premise is that two young girls are rescued from the foster care system by a grandmother they had believed to be dead.  Their grandmother reveals the truth to them about their family's history: that the girls are the great, great (etc) grandchildren of the Brothers Grimm and the fairy tale characters (or everafters) that they wrote about are alive and well and living in Ferryport landing.  It has long been their family's job to keep peace in the town and solve any mysteries that crop up--the main one for the girls being the kidnapping of their parents by the shadowy everafter group The Scarlet Hand.  Once again with this series it is fun to see well-known characters re-imagined in a modern setting, and my favorite one by far is the trickster king himself, Puck.  These books are fast-paced and enjoyable but they aren't entirely fluff either; they do brush on the basics of some more complex issues like stereotyping and trust without slowing down the narrative.  As much as I love these books, however, they are meant to be humorous and do not take themselves seriously and the reader shouldn't do so either-- they have a pretty loose definition of 'fairy tale' including characters from stories such as The Wizard of Oz that would be long past the time of the original Grimm Brothers besides being fictional characters, created by a known person.  There are plenty of other little lapses in the logic to the characters and setting, so if you're a real purist or stickler these probably aren't for you.  And as much as I love them they are, as I said, very basic and might be too juvenile for older readers.  However, despite the fact that the main characters are both girls Puck plays a pretty strong role as well and the themes of the novel aren't particularly girly so they should be able to be enjoyed by both genders.  I can't wait to get my hands on the next book!
The Sisters Grimm series: The Fairy-Tale Detectives, The Unusual Suspects, The Problem Child, Once Upon a Crime, Magic and Other Misdemeanors, Tales from the Hood, and The Everafter War by Michael Buckley

I absolutely loved this unique take on the Arthurian legends! (Are you noticing a pattern here?  I'm a sucker for a good re-telling)  The reason I enjoyed this book so much is because in it Arthur is not a great hero advised by an infinitely wise and powerful wizard; he is an average tyrant with an extraordinary bard who creates a following for him by weaving half-truths into stories that get retold across the land and eventually become the legends that we are all familiar with.  The story is told from the perspective of a young girl apprenticed to  Myrrdin (Merlin).  In addition to exploring some pretty interesting themes and positing some great ideas on how the legends were started this book includes a healthy dose of cross-dressing, so fun for all really.  This re-telling is pretty dark, however so it's definitely for older, YA readers.
 Here Lies Arthur by Phillip Reeve

 In the classic tradition of juvenile fantasy novels this story revolves around a young boy who sees something odd in the woods around his house one day and decides to follow it.  This opens up a new reality to him and soon everything that he knows and loves is gone and in danger of disappearing forever if he can't rise master the rules of this strange new world and save the day.  The world is a pretty interesting one; there's a lot of good, creative details although apparently not particularly memorable ones because I read these back in April and the details are already pretty foggy.  The book was a good quick-read, but it was almost too quick.  I remember thinking that it had the start of a lot of good ideas and characters but the book was so fast-paced that we never got to spend time on any long enough to thoroughly explore it, which was frustrating.  The same was true of the sequel.  Still, a pretty enjoyable juvenile fantasy novel aimed more at boys but enjoyable to anyone looking for a quick-read with a fantasy war twist.
The Navigator and City of Time by Eoin McNamee

This is a great juvenile fiction book for all those young boys into super hero comics or just looking for a good, humorous read.  Ordinary boy is the only person in Superopolis without a super power, but that doesn't stop him from forming a junior crime-fighting league with his friends.  What I love about this book is that even though he's the only one without super-powers he ends up being the de-facto leader of the group and gets them out of many sticky situations by using his intelligence.  They also spend a lot of the story trying to collect an entire set of hero collector cards which leads to a valuable lesson about supply and demand and the whole collecting craze (particularly relevant to the comic/super hero crowd that the series is aimed at).  We only had the first book at my library, so I haven't read the rest yet, but I am interested to see what direction the rest of the series goes in and if it continues to have little morals like this for each book.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy series, The Hero Revealed by William Bonfiace